WASHINGTON — Racing the debt clock, Congress is working on dual tracks while President Barack Obama appeals to the public in hopes of influencing a deal that talks have failed to produce so far.
“We have to ask everyone to play their part because we are all part of the same country,” Obama said Saturday, pushing a combination of spending cuts and tax increases that has met stiff resistance from Republicans. “We are all in this together.”
In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said the wealthiest must “pay their fair share.” He invoked budget deals negotiated by GOP President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“You sent us to Washington to do the tough things, the right things,” he said. “Not just for some of us, but for all of us.”
As a critical Aug. 2 deadline approached, the chances that Obama would get $4 trillion or even $2 trillion in deficit reduction on terms he preferred were quickly fading as Congress moved to take control of the debate. At a news conference Friday, Obama opened the door to a smaller package of deficit reductions without revenue increases.
Obama’s communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, said the president, Vice President Joe Biden and White House aides were discussing “various options” on Saturday with congressional leaders and House and Senate aides from both parties.
The White House held out the possibility of arranging a meeting with the leaders on Sunday.
House Republicans prepared to vote this coming week on allowing an increase in the government’s borrowing limit through 2012 as long as Congress approved a balanced-budget constitutional amendment, which is highly unlikely.
In the Senate, the Republican and Democratic leaders worked on a bipartisan plan that would allow Obama to raise the debt limit without a prior vote by lawmakers. The talks focused on how to address long-term deficit reduction in the proposal in hopes of satisfying House Republicans.
A weekend deadline that the president gave congressional leaders to choose one of three deficit reduction options became a moot point after House and Senate leaders made it clear to the White House on Friday that they were moving ahead with their own plans.
In the Republicans’ address Saturday, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah argued for passage of a balanced-budget amendment. He blamed Democrats for failing to embrace adequate budget cuts and said “the solution to a spending crisis is not tax increases.”
An amendment that requires a balanced budget, he said, “would put us on a path to fiscal health and would prevent this White House or any future White House from forcing more debt on the American people.”
The government said Friday it was using its last stopgap measure to avoid exceeding the current $14.3 trillion debt limit. Administration officials, economists and the financial markets have warned that missing the Aug. 2 deadline and precipitating a government default would send convulsions through an already weakened economy.
Obama had held five straight days of meeting with congressional leaders at the White House, but none of the three options he proposed – deficit cuts of $4 trillion, $2 trillion or $1.5 trillion over 10 years – were unlocking enough support to increase the debt ceiling by the $2.4 trillion Obama wants to make it last beyond the 2012 elections.
Essentially declaring those discussions over, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Friday: “”Now the debate will move from a room in the White House to the House and Senate floors.”
In search of a deal, Obama has used a combination of private meetings with congressional leaders and high visibility press conferences, radio addresses and public statements in an effort to win the public to his side. His pitch is also aimed at independent voters, to whom he is presenting himself as a willing compromiser.
In a White House video distributed Saturday by Obama senior adviser David Plouffe to supporters, Obama is shown praising the virtue of compromise to a group Democratic, Republican an independent students. He noted that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation permitted slavery in border states loyal to the Union, in an attempt to hold the nation together.
“Here you’ve got a wartime president whose making a compromise around probably the greatest moral issue that the country ever faced because he understood that `right now my job is to win the war and to maintain the union,'” Obama said.
“Can you imagine how the (liberal news outlet) Huffington Post would have reported on that? It would have been blistering. Think about it, `Lincoln sells out slaves.'”
He told the students: “The nature of our democracy and the nature of our politics is to marry principle to a political process that means you don’t get 100 percent of what you want.”